Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Keeping it Rough

A few years ago Pinehurst Resorts began a "restoration" of the No. 2 course. The aim of the restoration was to return the course back to the way it was originally meant to be played. Here is a great video showing what course architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have done to the course during this restoration.


The neat thing about this restoration is that they are moving more to a style of golf that Pender Harbour offers. We have only ever had a single row irrigation system and therefore our rough always burns out in the summer months. The rough transitions from thick dense golf ball eating grass into a sparse bumpy arid mess. Although the dense green turf might be seen as the most desirable playing surface they both offer the same purpose to the game of golf. They are both surfaces that are less desirable than the fairways.

The dense rough that our course features in the winter months is not as easy to hit a golf ball out of as the fairways and is an appropriate penalty for a shot hit off-line. In the summer the inconsistent nature of the rough is also an equally challenging penalty with its uneven lies and inconsistent nature. The difference between these two surfaces as far as golf is concerned are minimal but the differences as far as maintenance is concerned is drastic.

The turf grown in Canada is a cool season type turf. This means that it thrives in our cooler climate and will go dormant at extremely low and high temperatures. When the air temperatures reach 25-30C the turf turns brown and goes dormant. Most people see dormancy as the turf dying but in reality it is just the turf's way of coping with the stressful growing conditions. The leaves die back but the crow and roots stay alive. All it takes is some cooler weather and a bit of water and the turf usually greens right back up.

The problem with dormant turf in the summer months is that it doesn't have the ability to recuperate from the wear from golfers and golf cart traffic. For these reasons we as turf managers water the turf to keep it green, growing, and able to withstand the traffic and remain a good consistent playing surface.

The question I have for you is why do we constantly strive to keep our rough nice and consistent? Isn't it supposed to be a penalty for mis-hit shots? Doesn't inconsistency make a surface more difficult to play off of?

In order for us to keep our rough consistent and green we need to water like crazy due to the single row irrigation system. This creates excessively wet and soft conditions down the center of the fairways. These soft conditions are often more penal than the uniform green rough.
Green lush conditions like this in the Summer result in soft
fairways and thick, high maintenance rough.
In years past we have always tried to keep our rough green and thick at the expense of our fairways. Years of over-watering have left our course with thick layers of thatch which do not allow for adequate drainage and keep the conditions soft all year.

We now water to keep the center lines of the fairways green and consistent yet firm. The further you venture from the center of the fairways the less consistent the conditions will be. Balls will roll more on the fairways the drier they are. The rough will not always look nice and green but it will always offer the same penal playing surface no matter what time of year you golf here. Sadly I have no pictures of our dry rough in the summer as in the past I had never thought it worth photographing and often thought of it as a failure. The following picture was the best I could muster up but hardly shows the extreme dry conditions our rough experiences in summer.
Typical summertime conditions on the fairways. Note the
patchy rough areas.
These dry conditions are not only better for golf conditions but will also save the course money. Dormant turf in the rough does not need to be cut or fertilized. We also have to spend less time irrigating. We are lucky to have an unlimited supply of free water but many courses could save tens of thousands of dollars simply by turning off the water to the rough areas of the course.

A lot of courses lately have transitioned unused areas of the golf course to "naturalized" areas in an effort to reduce water use and save on the cost of maintaining these areas. Why stop there? These courses still have lush green juicy consistent rough surrounding most of their fairways. Why not transition to less water in the rough, just enough to keep it "not dead" with only the fairways receiving water?

Perception needs to change though and simply turning off the water isn't necessarily the answer. Recent courses have been specifically designed for thick dense rough and many golfers may not yet tolerate the brown dry inconsistent rough. Through education and the work being done at Pinehurst the golfer's expectations might shift toward a more sustainable way of maintaining golf courses.

The restoration efforts at Pinehurst only fortifies our maintenance practices at Pender Harbour and hopefully will help everyone more appreciate the dry conditions the course experiences each summer. Pinehurst has made this change by choice, we have worked this way for years because we had no other choice.